If your surgeon was in to the bubbly the night before he’s scheduled to do your procedure, you might want to pretend you have a fever. A study published in the Archives of Surgery this month stated that doctors who had “drank freely to intoxication” the night before scheduled surgeries had far higher error rates the next day, even if their blood alcohol levels were zero and even as late as the next afternoon.
Teams of doctors were told to abstain from alcohol or drinking freely the night before the assessments were to take place. The next day, the doctors carried out laparoscopic procedures (keyhole surgeries) on a virtual reality system (certainly relieving that the tests were not carried out on actual live patients). The doctors who had indulged made 50% more errors than the doctors who had stayed sober.
While this finding is not necessarily surprising, the fact is that doctors have high rates of alcohol abuse, which make this finding even more troubling. The Globe and Mail cited two studies, one a 2005 Norwegian study that showed surgeons are more likely to abuse alcohol than physicians in other specialties, as well as a Yale study showing that for physicians in general, alcohol is the most commonly abused substance.
While this could lead to an awkward conversation on the individual level (“Hey, Doc, how many beers did you have last night?”) it might be worthwhile for new regulations to be put in place for doctors and alcohol consumption, such as it is with pilots who are not permitted to fly within 8 hours of consuming alcohol.
Photo credit: salimfadhley on Flickr